Spice / K2 Is Now Illegal

We wrote in January about the fact that Spice, despite popular belief, was still legal according to federal law (see Spice Still Available? for the details). Individual states (18 at the last count) had made it illegal according to state law but the majority of people in America still had access to the synthetic marijuana product Spice. Some rejoiced, some were chagrined. In fact I took note of Spice products in local stores this past month. So shop owners were exercising their rights regardless of the warning issued Nov. 24th that Spice would eventually be taken off the market. (And they may continue selling Spice products even though it’s not illegal for a number of reasons we’ll look at below).

Yesterday the DEA put its notice making Spice / k2 products illegal on the Federal Register. You can check out the full notice on the DEA website. Basically, it temporarily places five of the compounds that make Spice mimic marijuana on Schedule I (the same Schedule where marijuana and heroin reside). Those compounds are: JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, CP-47,497 C8 homologue. Since they are on Schedule I, the same regulations and penalties that apply to other illegal drugs on that Schedule now apply to Spice…which just yesterday was being sold in your local corner store. The law is effective as of yesterday, March 1, 2011.

The controversial products that people call "fake pot" are still on the market.

One of the products targeted by the ban

Spice is being placed on Schedule I because it has been deemed an “imminent hazard” to public safety. To do this the Attorney General had to determine “the history and current pattern of abuse,” the “scope, duration, and significance of abuse,” and the “risk there is to public health, including actual abuse, diversion from legitimate channels, and clandestine importation, manufacture or distribution.”

Some of the aspects of synthetic cannabinoids flagged in the notice include:

  • The substances were not intended for human consumption;
  • Healthcare professionals and law enforcement suggest that the substances are used for their psychoactive properties;
  • Spice/k2 compounds are associated with adverse health effects;
  • No non-research related legitimate use for Spice/k2, such as a therapeutic/medical use, has been found;
  • There is no evidence that their addiction to incense products adds any value, as the substances have no odor [one of the aspects Spice smokers most liked about the product – Ed. note];
  • There have been very few clinical investigations of Spice / k2 so there is almost no information regarding the pharmacology, toxicology and safety of the product;
  • The cannabinoids are manufactured overseas or in private homes without any regulation or quality control;
  • The packaging is also without regulation or quality control.

The other thing about the packaging is that it is a bit reminiscent of cigarette packaging, before the many regulations were passed to prevent tobacco companies from advertising to kids.  Although the DEA does not explicitly come out and say this, there is a concern that the way they are packaged is suggestive of their inappropriate use and of their psychoactive properties.

So, Spice is now illegal.  While we knew it was coming, the notice may leave us with more questions than it does answers.  For example, have shop owners been notified?  How are they supposed to dispose of the product (David Kroll goes into that and similar questions in his blog entry “6 Big Questions on the DEA Ban of K2 Spice Synthetic Marijuana “Fake Pot” Compounds”)?  The notice explains that the five compounds and their isomers are targeted by the law…but does that include all the possible synthetic cannabinoids available?  Finally, spice drug testing is now available, and will soon be coming to the home market as well (in fact we will be carrying home drug test kits from Confirm Biosciences very soon), but is detection technology advanced and ubiquitous enough to be effective?  Some states (such as Massachusetts) have passed laws to decriminalize marijuana, presumably to avoid applying valuable resources to a very commonly used drug.  How will police departments have to change procedure or adapt resources to deal with this notice?

In any case, this story will no doubt continue to develop.  But the word is out, for shop owners and consumers alike – as of yesterday, you have to stay away from Spice.

Picture of K2 varieties from “The Pitch”

Spice Still Available? The Legal Challenges Keeping It (Temporarily) Alive

Remember the synthetic marijuana-like product Spice?  Other than Four Loko, Spice was probably the drug story of the year, attracting the attention of media outlets, parents, and kids alike.  In time it attracted the attention of the federal government as well, and the DEA in November said that it would take emergency measures to schedule the drug, or in other words to classify it as they do other drugs, and get it removed from the market.  According to the DEA’s release, the final rule on the psychoactive compounds JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol would be published on December 24th.

The controversial products that people call "fake pot" are still on the market.

The popular brand "K2"

This was very disappointing to Spice smokers.  You might be surprised to learn that as of now the disappointment is unwarranted – though the DEA made its announcement on November 24th, the products remain on the market.

Huh?  As it turns out, the DEA was not clear in its original release as to the timeframe of the temporary ban.  Apparently, 30 days is the minimum amount of time required to announce a change in the rules.  But it doesn’t mean that’s the amount of time it will take – the DEA can take all the time it needs and has issued another release to clarify that.  So, Spice has been pulled from a lot of shelves (or reformulated), and we are told a home drug test is in the works for it, but it’s still, technically, temporarily, legal.

DEA Spokeswoman Barbara Carreno, interviewed by the Hartford Advocate, explained the process, explaining “We still have to write new regulations and publish them and that’s taken longer than expected.”  Furthermore:

While the law stipulates that the DEA must announced its proposed ban thirty days prior to enacting it, there’s nothing that prohibits them from taking longer, Carreno says. Until the rules are actually published in the Federal Register, the nation’s official rule book, the ban will not go into effect.

She said she wouldn’t offer an estimate as to when final rules may be published, saying the agency had “learned our lesson” with regard to predictions or estimated time frames. She said vendors of K2 and Spice should continue checking the register to stay on the right side of the law.

Business owners will have to be vigilant, although it seems likely that when Spice and K2 are actually off the market, the media attention to the issue will resume, at least briefly.

Another reason why the DEA is having trouble getting Spice products off the market is a lawsuit that has been filed in Minnesota by a few business owners.  They argue that banning Spice will hurt their bottom lines, and it surely will, as one business owner said Spice accounted for a million dollars in sales last year (see The Salt Lake Tribune for more info).  The lawsuit was dismissed just days ago by Judge Patrick Schiltz but the business owners are filing a repeal.

Apparently the DEA expects to issue a final ruling on the ban next month.  A seemingly separate group, the Retail Compliance Association, has also made a legal challenge to the ban, based on its impact on small businesses and certain federal acts better explained by David Kroll here.  According to the press release by the Retail Compliance Association

One economic analyst stated that the industry may represent more than 1 billion in economic impact, if true, this will preclude the ban from ever taking effect as the emergency order is governed by Executive Order 12991 which states that emergency bans cannot be implemented in the cases where a 100 million dollar or greater economic impact will be imposed.

It would be interesting to learn more about those numbers and see how the case is argued.  The DEA says it has removed language in its Notice of Intent that cited the acts in question.

The (threatened) Spice ban raises a lot of interesting issues.  It does seem to warrant a ban – it’s basically unregulated, unknown chemicals sprayed on plant material, and it has been causing bad reactions among some people.  Marijuana legalization advocates seem to like Spice because it makes marijuana look good in comparison.  How the DEA will handle synthetic cannabinoids in general (as there are way more than the 5 the DEA specified in their Notice of Intent) will be intriguing as well.

So the Spice saga goes on…we’ll let you know when the DEA publishes its rules in February, if in fact they publish the rules at all.

Picture from “The Pitch”

What Is Spice? The Ultimate Guide

(We recently featured an article entitled “Spice: What Is It, And Can It Be Tested?” on our blog. One of our readers pointed out something we kind of overlooked – what is spice?? So we endeavored to answer that question below by providing what we hope will become the ultimate guide to Spice.)

What is Spice?

What is spice? Everybody is trying to figure this out as awareness of this new substance spreads into pop culture, high schools, and even gas stations near you.

Spice is slang for synthetic cannabis. It was once an actual brand but has become shorthand for a wide variety of similar products. It’s a mixture of herbs that have had synthetic cannabinoids sprayed on them. One of these cannabinoids is called JWH-018 and was invented in a lab to help with pain. The point of experimenting with cannabinoids was to eliminate the effects of cannabinoids that create a “high” while maintaining the pain relief effects. With JWH-018, this did not happen – actually JWH-018 is very potent, more potent than many forms of marijuana.

One of the reasons Spice has taken off in popularity is that JWH-018 can be made easily by combining a few commercial products. Its first non-lab use was in Asia, where it became an aid for plant growth. Much of the Spice you see in the United States still comes from manufacturers in Asia. Its purpose in the United States is quite different though – it is smoked by folks for a high that is still legal federally and in most states.

Spice is marketed in the U.S. as “incense.” This is to prevent it from having to adhere to regulations were it labeled a medicine or “smokable product.” It usually comes in a little pouch. The ingredients listed on the pouches do not always reflect what’s actually in the pouch.

Typically Spice is smoked as marijuana would be. It has many, many names and brands, among them: Algerian Blend, Genie, k2, Smoke, Chill X, Sense, Yucatan Fire, Spice Diamond, Spice Silver, Spice Gold.

Where can it be purchased?

Spice is purchased at head shops, gas stations, etc., as it is legal in most states.  There’s also a thriving online industry for Spice and other synthetic cannabis products.

What does it do?

Spice that contains JWH-018 acts in the brain the same way that marijuana does. It binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. It blocks the action of these two cannabinoid receptors. They are most common in the parts of the brain that have the most to do with memory, like the hippocampus.

How does it work?

Spice that contains JWH-018 acts in the brain the same way that marijuana does. It binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. It blocks the action of these two cannabinoid receptors. They are most common in the parts of the brain that have the most to do with memory, like the hippocampus.

Is it legal?

Is it largely legal in the United States, but it is illegal in many European countries.

Where is it illegal?

(All of this information is as of October 27, 2010; there may be other cities, localities, countries and states that have banned synthetic cannabis which have escaped our attention)

Countries where it is illegal: Austria, Germany, France, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Chile, South Korea, Japan.

States in the US where it is illegal: Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon, Michigan.

States in the US where it is about to be illegal: Illinois.

States where the legal status of synthetic cannabis is under discussion: New York, New Jersey, Florida, Indiana, Ohio.

What are the risks?

In most states, Spice is still legal, so you won’t get in trouble for possessing it. The major risk is that there have been no major tests done about synthetic cannabinoids’ effect on the human body. Even the inventor of JWH-018, John W. Huffman, PhD, says that because they’ve never been tested using them recreationally is like “Russian Roulette.” Although he certainly does not endorse marijuana use he goes so far as to recommend, somewhat hypothetically, smoking marijuana as preferable to smoking synthetic cannabis, since at least it has been studied. WebMD points out that they share a chemical structure with some carcinogens, and a published study shows that when JWH-018 enters the body it is metabolized into carcinogens (see Vice magazine).

Spice is not regulated either – as mentioned above, what’s on the label may not be what’s in the bag (and the reason Spice did not attract attention for so long is that in fact the synthetic cannabinoids producing the psychoactive affects were NOT on the label). Some doctors believe that Spice related cases they have seen may stem from additional contaminants in the product(s). These contaminants have led to effects that are reminiscent not of a marijuana-like drug, but a stimulant.

Indeed, the side effects are not always simply a high feeling. Vomiting, increased heart rate, hallucinations, and increased anxiety can occur. Some people have even been hospitalized. And other typical drug drawbacks can occur too – withdrawal, cravings, a hangover, and even addiction has been documented.

What are the signs that someone is using synthetic cannabis?

Unlike marijuana, synthetic cannabis does not have a signature smell. The high is relatively short (30 minutes or so) and generally shorter than a high from marijuana. So it is less likely you will catch someone “acting high” when they are using the drug. However, this may vary depending on the potency of the product consumed. The red-eyed look of someone high on marijuana can also be seen in someone high on Spice, as can the general slowness and subdued behavior. In terms “not currently high” symptoms and signs of continued use and/or dependency, symptoms will be similar to marijuana use – less interest in schoolwork or extracurricular activities, detachment, lethargy.

The most common method of using spice is smoking it in joint form. If you are a parent, it is worth noting if rolling papers and rollers suddenly appear. Other marijuana paraphernalia (such as glassware, bongs, etc.) should be looked out for as well. You might also look for eyedrops which are used to mask the bloodshot effect that both Spice and marijuana can have on the eyes.

Dr. Scalzo, who is studying cases in which use of Spice has led to emergency room visits, tells parents to be on the lookout for agitation, pale appearance, and confusion and anxiety in teens that may be the result of hallucinations. Other signs of Spice’s adverse effects include paleness and increased heartbeat and blood pressure. (For the full article on Dr. Scalzo please visit Science Daily).

What can parents do?

Many state and local communities are discussing the issue of synthetic cannabis. Some cities have endeavored to create ordinances banning its use. If you are interested in stopping the sale of synthetic cannabis, the best thing to do is probably to contact your local and state representatives and bring the issue to their attention.

Can I drug test my child?

The answer is sort of yes and no. Unfortunately at the moment no home drug test is available to test for the synthetic compounds in Spice and related products. However, labs have developed on-site technology to test for a few (if not all) of the synthetic cannabinoids in Spice. Redwood Toxicology is the first lab to do so. Here is what you need to know about their detection of synthetic cannabis in urine:

  • The metabolites detected are JWH-018 and JWH-073. Other metabolites that may be active in synthetic cannabis will not be detected by this test (for example, HU-210, a synthetic cannabinoid discovered in Spice Gold).
  • JWH-018 and JWH-073 were chosen for detection because they are at this time the most common: between the two, they are the active ingredients in 27 different Spice type mixtures.
  • JWH-018 and JWH-073 can be detected in urine (depending on how much was used) for up to 72 hours after last use.

One important thing to remember is that if you suspect your child is using Spice, testing them with a marijuana drug test is useless. Chemically, synthetic cannabis is not similar to marijuana, and it will not show up as positive for marijuana on a drug test.

List of Links:

There are a lot of great sources on Spice and Spice-like products out there. Here is a selection of resources for those interested in learning more about Spice:

Joseph Brownstein for ABC News: “K2 Giving People Another Dangerous Way to Get High”

Mary Carmichael for Newsweek: “Fake-Pot Panic”

David Kroll: “Is DEA about to act of K2 Spice synthetic marijuana products?”

David Kroll: “What’s the buzz?: Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, JWH-018”

Andrew Moseman for Discover Magazine: “Legal, Synthetic Marijuana Pleases Pot-Heads, Upsets State Governments”

Peter Rugg for The Pitch: “Product Review: Will K2 Synthetic Marijuana Get You High?”

Erowid.org: Spice Product Resources

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: “Synthetic Cannabinoids and ‘Spice’”

Have a source you’d like to add to the list, or a question you’d like us to answer?  Please send an email to the author, Robyn, at robyn at homehealthtesting.com and she’ll do the best to answer your question.  Thanks for reading what we hope will become the Ultimate Guide to Spice!

Photo by Schorle

Spice: What Is It, And Can It Be Tested?

You may have heard of the newest drug phenomenon, known variously as “spice” or K2.  Sometimes called “Genie,” this drug has similar effects as marijuana, but unlike marijuana, it is (in most states) legal.

Spice, a type of synthetic cannabis you cannot home drug test for, yet.

Spice works like marijuana. A chemical in the spice mimics the activity THC has in the brain.  This results in a marijuana like high, with the same symptoms.  The potency of the drug varies across brand.

Some states have banned the drug, including Iowa.  Kansas and Missouri are trying to categorize spice with marijuana in terms of legality and involved fines (see this CBS news report for more).

What do you need to know?  Well, if you are concerned that someone is using spice, you cannot at the moment buy a home drug test for it.  There’s no doubt new technologies will develop in the next few years to test for it, but at the moment no hair, saliva, or urine home drug test can detect it.

However, the Redwood Toxicology lab did just recently come out with a urine-based lab test for it.  While not as convenient as a home test, it is the only current method of detecting spice use.  To learn more call 1-800-255-2159 or visit their website (Redwood Toxicology) to learn more about how it works.  We’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as far as how soon the test will be available on the instant drug test market, and if you have any questions, let us know!

Picture by Schorle via Wikipedia.